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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Art Licensing Editorial: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - insights on walking the show

This is the second of three articles about the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishing Market. As the title to this article implies, it really does mean that by attending the show you do walk it which can be hard on your feet since the AmericasMart campus is huge. So, wear comfortable shoes or you will not be able to see much of it. The purpose in going to the Atlanta Gift show is not only showing art for licensing consideration and getting contact information from the manufacturers exhibiting but MUCH more! It is also to learn about the licensing industry, learn what kind of art manufacturers & retailers are looking for, and spotting art and color trends. So, you need to observe, talk to whomever you can, and ask questions. Read the first article "Art Licensing: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - the amazing AmericasMart campus" for information about the AmericasMart and how a person can attend the gift show.

Walking the show can be exhausting and it is easy to get overwhelmed with information and looking at "eye candy". The floor to ceiling glass windows of the showrooms allow you to see an amazing number of products as you walk down hallway after hallway after hallway. And do not presume that because a showroom is empty of buyers that the manufacturer is having a bad show because ten minutes later it can be packed with buyers. For some unknown reason, people attending any type of show seem to move through them in packs. Hint: I found it helpful to take plenty of breaks to relax from sensory overload and write down notes on what I saw and heard. Note: The AmericasMart policy does not allowed photos to be taken unless permission is given by the exhibitor. Attendees are allowed to bring rolling briefcases or rolling laptop size cases but nothing larger. But, these still tend to be a tripping hazard and gets in the way. Most people carry tote bags or backpacks for literature and other items.

Not all manufacturers have their own permanent showrooms at the AmericasMart. Some use a distributor(s) that have showrooms, some have temporary booths during the shows, some have permanent showrooms and also use a distributor, or use a distributor and have a temporary booth. Thus, you may see products from the same company in several showrooms or booths.

Persons responsible for selecting art for licensing consideration (art/licensing director or owner of the company) attend the Atlanta Gift show for at least two or three days of the show. They do not often go to the smaller regional gift shows. Because many art directors ( but not all) attend the Atlanta Gift Show and it is the largest one in the United States, it is the best one to attend to search for licensing opportunities. If you have contact information for the person responsible for selecting art, it is possible before the show to make an appointment with her/him IF she/he is attending the show and making appointments.

While walking the show, always look at showrooms that appear to have licensed art and products if you are interested in licensing your own product concepts. Ask at the information desk in the showroom if they license art and also ask who to contact and for their email address. It is smart to have with you an iPad with your art on it. You may have the opportunity to show your art to the companies art director or owner. The iPad is easier to carry than a large portfolio and an art director can easily flip through the images while standing in a crowded showroom or booth. Also, approaching manufacturer art directors are great ways to start building relationships that are very important in licensing your work. But, remember this is a wholesale show and you MUST observe show courtesy. The exhibitors are at the show to sell products to buyers so wait until the person is free before asking questions.

OBSERVE, o b s e r v e, observe
There is a lot of information available just by looking at the art on the products in the showrooms and booths. What colors and art themes are manufacturers placing on their products? What art styles are they using? And, is your art a good fit for their product lines? Do not waste your or the manufacturers time showing art to manufacturers that is not a good fit! For example, if you create whimsical styled art, it is a waste of time showing it to a manufacturer that ONLY wants contemporary graphic art styles or a weathered looking vintage art style.

Be on the lookout for new themes of images that appear on numerous manufacturer products. This could be possible trends that are at the beginning of a trend cycle and could continue for several/many more years OR not. And, when you are in a crowded showroom observe what products the buyers are looking at and commenting on. Also notice what products the buyers indicate to showroom reps they want to purchase. Every bit of knowledge leads to insight on the art that buyers think their customers will buy. And, that will help you decide on the art themes to create that will have a better chance in getting licensed.

Note: I attended two of the home decor seminars for buyers that were sponsored by home décor exhibitors. These seminars were given by expert and well known decorators. Several have their own HGTV home décor shows. The reason why I attended was to listen to their opinions about décor trends seen now in the market, about upcoming trends, and also to ask a few questions. Some home décor trends do filter down into the gift industry so the speakers opinions were insightful.

Talk to everyone - manufacturers, fellow artists, art licensing agents, reps and owners in the showrooms and booths, and even buyers. Asking questions is a fantastic way to learn about products and art that sells. Put on a thick skin and ask art directors when they review your art why they do not like certain images of yours. Many are very frank with you and the information gain from that is HUGE. It gives you information on how to improve your work (technique, themes, colors etc.) so that you can create more licensable art. Artist and art licensing agent Ronnie Walter of Two Town Studios emphasized the importance of this in an artist Tara Reed Art Licensing Info Ask Call*. To paraphrase Ronnie, You need to listen very carefully when art directors are willing to constructively critic your work. Art licensing agent Jim Marcotte also of Two Town Studio and Ronnie's husband agrees in his blog article "Runnin' Wild in Atlanta" with the statement that getting the opportunity to get immediate feedback from the people who make the final decisions in choosing art is a great education that you cannot buy.

* Download a free audio recording of Ronnie and Tara's discussion at "Ask about Art Licensing".

While waiting to see an art director, talk to a rep if she/he is not busy. Reps like to talk to people about products and they may share information about the company and artists they license their work from. Information such as what art are big sellers and why they (the manufacturer) like to work with certain artists (easy to work with; knows what art consumers buy) would not be found out otherwise. And, even talking to buyers gives you an understanding about the retail business and what sells. At the show, I spent an enjoyable 45 minutes talking to a gift store owner while i was sitting in line waiting for artist Susan Lordi (Willow Tree) signing at the Demdaco showroom :) I learned a lot about the challenges in running a store in this changing economy.

Note: Maybe it is the southern hospitality in Atlanta but I was impressed with how helpful most reps in the showrooms were when I approached the information table and asked if they licensed art. One rep said that they did not license art but pointed me to another showroom that did. In another showroom, the reps did not know and actually chased down the CEO so that I could ask him. And, the CEO cheerfully gave me the information and told me a little about his company. That definably is not my experience when I walk the San Francisco gift show. Getting contact information is like "pulling teeth"! Of course, even in Atlanta there are some reps that are grouches and I did come across a few. And, I could not believe what another artist experienced when she went into a showroom that displayed her art on their products. She was made to feel very unwelcome because she was not a buyer although she explained that she had created some of the art on their products:(

Hint: For those of you that have a hard time approaching reps and showing your art, I will let you in on a little secret. It is hard AT FIRST but it gets easier the more you do it. I am an introvert and meeting strangers are VERY outside my comfort zone. When I started attending trade shows years ago, I had to force myself to approach a booth. It was agony. And, low-and-behold I found out that usually the reps were really nice. And, I learned not to take it personally when they were not nice. So now after years of practice, when I walk the shows I put on my social hat and actually enjoy meeting and talking to strangers. I am still an introvert and prefer staying in my studio creating art but I have learned that occasionally leaving my studio and meeting other people is not only enjoyable but can be educational.

Below are a links to articles by others attending the show.

• Andrea Brooks and Dennis Kendrick "The Atlanta Show January 2014"

• Beth Logan "Atlanta Gift Mart 2014"

• Genevieve Gail "Atlanta Gift Mart Recap"

• Kathy Weller "AmericasMart 2014 trip and Demdaco Yoga Pals"

• Linda McMullan "Report from Atlanta Gift and Home Market" and "More Trends from the Atlanta Gift and Home Market" and "Three Big Lessons from The Atlanta Gift and Home Market"

• M & M / art baking "Atlanta Gift Show January 11, 2014"

• Patti Gay "Atlanta Gift Show"

• Rhoda (consumer) "The Atlanta Mart January Show"

• Stephanie Ryan  "Atlanta Gift Mart Recap Part 1 – Fleur for Magnet Works – Studio M" and "Atlanta Gift Mart Recap Part 2 – Santa Barbara Design Studio"

• Valerie McKeehan "Americas Mart Atlanta Re-Cap January 2014"

• Working Girls Design "2014 Starts off Right - Our Trip to the Atlanta Gift Show!"

It is expensive to attend the Atlanta Gift Show because of airfare and lodging costs. So, use your time wisely in walking the show to learn as much as you can. Wear comfortable shoes, bring an iPad with your art on it, and a camera or smart phone to take pictures if you have the opportunity. Also do not forget to bring some business cards and postcards with your contact information on them. Pick up literature and magazines from the magazine racks situated near the elevators and escalators on each floor to peruse after the show. You can ask the manufacturer for catalogs but I found that not many will give them to artists because they are saving them for the buyers. Talk to everyone, ask questions and build relationships. And, learn as much as you can so that you have a better understanding about the licensing industry and thus a better chance in licensing your art.

Art Licensing Editorial: 2014 Atlanta Gift Show - trends

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address).


  1. Lots of useful advice and funny tidbits here, Joan. Thank you for walking us through the Atlanta marathon.

  2. Hello Joan,

    thanks for sharing. You can't imagine how helpful is everything you write in your blog :-)

  3. Joan-Thank you for your wonderful blog and for sharing your experience/talent with all of us. About the Atlanta mentioned there are 2 times a year for the show. Is one of them the better to attend for licensed artists?

  4. Nancy, the January show is considered a better show to attend than the one in July. Because it is at the beginning of the year, more products are introduced, more buyers attend to replenish their merchandize and thus more art directors go to help staff showrooms. But the July show is still a good one to attend.

    1. Thank you so much, Joan. I hope that someday we meet and I can thank you in person for all of the help that you are to so many!

  5. Another excellent article, Joan, and an extremely useful viewpoint on visiting the January Atlanta Gift Show if you're not a retailer but rather an artist seeking to expand the licensing of your work. I always tell artists to go to big box stores and malls and study what's being sold that carried art. When you see products that obviously carry licensed art, pick them up, look underneath or at the tag to see who the manufacturer is, then jot down the name and contact info if you can and seek them out on the internet. Doing such a survey also gives you an excellent idea of what manufacturers are seeking, what they've licensed for their products, where they've put their "vote" for color, subject, composition, and style of artwork that they feel will increase their sales.

    The Atlanta Gift Show is so huge, with its large multi-story buildings full of showrooms and "temps" - temporary booths for companies who want to show product but who don't have showroom representation, that it's probably one of the very best venues in the United States to see and survey a vast array of products that carry art. Yes, it's expensive to get there and the hotels can be pricey, but the amount of information you'll gather, the amount of direction you'll receive regarding what you should be painting for license, can make the trip extremely worthwhile.

  6. Joan- awesome post!! It was really great seeing you in Atlanta. Thanks for always sharing your insights. :)

  7. Joan- awesome post! It was great to see you in Atlanta. Thanks for always sharing your insights.

  8. Hi Joan,
    I just want to understand a bit better--Why is it accepted at this show for artists to show their work, when it is not okay to do this at Surtex, for example?

  9. The Atlanta Gift Show and SURTEX are two very different type of trade shows. At the Atlanta trade show, manufacturers exhibit their products to sell to retailers. And, those manufacturers who license artists work welcome artists to talk to them and get contact information (and sometimes show their art if they have time) as long as the artists do not interrupt them when they are with a customer. Some of the manufacturer art buyers will also make appointments with artists if they are contacted before the show. SURTEX is a trade show were artists / agents exhibit artwork and manufacturers attend to find art to license. Exhibiting at the show is very expensive and it is not kosher for an artist that is not exhibiting to approach manufacturers that are walking SURTEX. If they want to show their art to manufacturers at SURTEX they should rent a booth. Unfortunately, in the past artists walking the show have interrupted discussions between those exhibiting and manufacturers which is the reason why SURTEX has strict rules on non-exhibiting artists showing their work to manufacturers that are walking the show.

  10. Thanks Joan
    Again I wanted to attend but my husband recently passed away and I'm having a bit of trouble getting the energy to get back into the game. However with the desire still present, perhaps next year, as I slowly progress with new art. Thanks for the great insights as usual. Any tips on how to find a list (by puzzles) of who exhibited at the show.

  11. Good luck in attending next January or this July show Rachel! The only list by products I know of would be in the Atlanta Show Buyers Guide but it has no contact info and I looked through mine and no puzzles or jig-saw puzzles is listed. Some puzzle companies is listed in my article about the puzzle industry. It can be found at